by Maggie Marr
'There is a big difference between playing the piano at home and being a concert pianist much like there is a large difference between writing because you love it and being paid to write.' --Monica Poole
This cycle on The Girlfriends Book Club we're discussing learning to write. Who, what, when, where and HOW we learned to become professional writers. The above piece of wisdom was given to me many years ago by the moderator of the first critique group I joined. A brilliant bit of pith that I clung to along the arduous path up the mountain to publication.
The thing about writing is that anyone can write but very few write well. We are taught to write as children. We create stories, book reports, research papers, term papers, and essays. A great portion of our academic career is dedicated to the conveyance of ideas through the written word.
And yet...after college and graduate school I found I knew very little about writing.
There are certain rules to writing a novel. There will be characters. These characters will embark on some kind of journey (plot) whether it be interior (literary fiction) or exterior (genre fiction) or a bit of both. This story will take place somewhere (setting) and the characters will discuss what takes place (dialogue). Now as all readers and writers know there are exceptions to all these rules. I get it. I am sure each of you could point out great works that stray from these elements but you would admit that generally these are the elements present in most works of fiction.
The tricky bit is knowing how to fit all these elements together to formulate a cohesive story that not only readers want to read but that they will shell out dollars for. Because, that, the shelling out of hard-earned cold cash for your creative endeavors, (at least in our capitalist society) is what makes you a pro.
To put the puzzle together isn't easy. In fact it takes most of us years of practice and *ahem* multiple failed attempts before we actually have a piece of writing that anyone (other than our mom) would want to read. I've been a fiction writer since second grade (don't make me tell you how many years). I won awards for my prose throughout my years in school. It wasn't until after law school that I began a serious pursuit of writing a novel. It was in fact 11 years, one marriage, two children, and three careers later that I finally could call myself a published novelist.
How did I get there? First hard work. You can not call yourself a writer unless you write. Seems so simple, yes? You must put your butt in the chair and tippity-tap (or for you old schoolers scribble) the words onto the page. The professional writers I know write on a consistent ie daily basis. You must be willing to be critiqued. As much as I fall in love with my own words (and believe me this is a curse not a blessing) time has taught me they aren't nearly as beauteous as my eyes believe (more like odious in the first draft). You have to take the criticism to get better. And you have to take the criticism to get pubbed. What a shock when the editor that loved your manuscript enough to buy it sends you a ten page editorial letter telling you all the things that must be changed in your manuscript. Remember you and your editor and your critique partners have the same goal: To make your manuscript better. Take their advice. (Especially the editor.) I've found that editors are right about changes and edits 99.9% of the time.
Finally, realize that writing is a craft. Which means you will never master the art of writing. You will craft a piece of work. You will hopefully get better with each piece and your readership will grow. The true challenge of this profession is that you realize there is no guarantee. Each time you sit down to craft a new piece of fiction you earn your audience, you earn the sales of your book, you earn your contract, and you earn your paycheck. A blank page one is the first day of a new job, but what an exciting job it is.
What about you? How did (or do) you pursue your dream job?
Maggie Marr is a full time writer. She is the author of Hollywood Girls Club and Secrets of The Hollywood Girls Club. Her short story 'Dashing Through The Snow' will appear in Sleigh Ride: A Winter Anthology 11/11/11. Her first classic romance Can't Buy Me Love fka The Billionaire's Proud Mistress (runner up in the 2009 Harlequin Presents contest) will publish March 2012. She also writes for film and tv. Maggie is currently at work on a new book. You can follow her and her pursuit of the perfect book at www.maggiemarr.com, facebook, twitter, and any other place writers may be found.